As a teenager, Ilse Aschner who was then Ilse Roemer was fascinated by the arrival of Adolf Hitler, the Fuhrer, and his Nazi army. She recalls that during the time of March of 1938, there were roars of cheer from the crowds as Hitler entered. There were the cries of “Sieg Heil.”
Then, Ilse’s father said that it was the signal for the Nazis to hunt down the Jews in Austria. “Nobody ever asked if I was Jewish,” Ilse said recalling that moment. At the time, she was not fully aware of her Jewish ancestry.
Regardless of what faith you are during the time, if your ancestry was Jewish, it was more than enough for someone to go through persecution. One prime example would be one of the people that sought refuge with Anne Frank and her family. In various works of literature based on Anne Frank’s diary, one of the people was not a practitioner of the Jewish faith. However, he had come from a Jewish ancestry.
In Ilse’s case, her world would be shaken to the core. She went with her best friend to a café where they heard Hitler’s voice on the radio. Hitler said that he had absorbed his homeland into the Third Reich. Ilse recalled that the waiter insisted that everybody at the café do the Nazi salute.
Ilse’s friend insisted to do the same thing. She recalled that her best friend’s father was a strong supporter of the Nazi party.
“It was the last time I went to a café because it was unbearable that I had to greet the Fuehrer,” Ilse recalls.
The 70th anniversary of Anschluss has been a dark event for those that live in Austria and those who lived in the decades after World War II.
In the same year, Ilse escaped Austria and found refuge in Britain. She worked as a nanny. But, her parents were not able to escape. Instead, they were taken into a concentration camp where they would die a few years later.
She tried to reclaim her family’s property after the war. But, it was given to a family that was still loyal to the Third Reich. At that time, Ilse was married with a baby. Her surname was now Aschner.
Still, it was a painful past for Ilse Aschner. However, she was not the only one to go through the painful past.
Gabriele Matzner too had gone through Austria’s dark and painful past. Currently, she is a historian and Austria’s ambassador to Britain. Matzer too recalls how her own family was divided. There were members that went against Nazism and other members that embraced it.
In the case of people like Ilse Aschner, it will take a long time to heal from Austria’s dark past. While 70 years have already passed, it would look as if that amount of time is not nearly enough.
On a side note, Poland’s government has moved to restore citizenship to its Jewish citizens that were expelled in 1968.